food / travel

Up Close With Lions And Tigers Rescued From The Underworld

The public is welcome at Germany's "Big Cat Sanctuary," a place of last resort for animals once in the grips of illegal circuses and mob traffickers.

Tiger at Ansbach's Big Cat Sanctuary
Tiger at Ansbach's Big Cat Sanctuary
Tim Sauer

ANSBACH â€" Very few people drive down this tiny deserted road. When a car approaches on the opposite side, you basically have to drive into the ditch to avoid a collision. Fields border the road on both sides, and only a few trees and houses can be seen in the distance.

The surrounding landscape doesn't offer a clue about the true forces of nature to be found nearby. Only seven kilometers from Ansbach is the home of the "Big Cat Sanctuary," known more formally as the Sanctuary for Predators and Exotic Animals. The animals who live here are predators who are potentially lethal to humans, and they have been saved from illegal trafficking and exploitation.

Though the sanctuary is far from perfect in terms of what it can offer these animals, it is a truly unique place. Olaf Neuendorf greets us at the gates and shows us the grounds by following the twisting paths. We don't hear any of the tigers or pumas while walking. But when we stop and listen closely, there is a sort of low, ominous growl.

Neuendorf leads on, opening two doors in quick succession. All of a sudden we are face to face with Chiara, an 11-year-old female tiger. Only a few bars separate us from the watchful predator, and it's a mesmerizing experience.

Even though we are in absolutely no danger, we can sense the sheer power with which a tiger hunts her prey. "I would like to ask you to refrain from sticking your fingers through the bars," Neuendorf says. "I would have to feed Chiara a little less later on, but you would be missing a few digits."

He knows his animals and is even able to communicate with them. When he purrs, Chiara purrs in return. Neuendorf has been working at the sanctuary for 25 years. Originally, an architect and his wife ran the place privately, with official permission to raise these animals.

Since then, the park has been financed entirely through the donations it receives through the Exotic Animal and Big Cat Asylum Association, which Neuendorf chairs. Only three other people, either interns or volunteers, help him with the daily tasks of feeding and caring for the animals. Neuendorf himself is here at least five days a week.

Not home, but a better fate

This is a place of last resort for the animals, who were illegally held by circuses, private individuals or smugglers who wanted to sell them on the black market before being discovered by federal authorities. Officials are required to find new homes for them, but there are very few solutions to the problem.

Many zoos are unwilling to accept animals that are not thoroughbred or whose origins are unknown. Animal parks and this sanctuary are the only alternatives. The animals can't be re-released back into the wild because they haven't been through a species-saving program. But this should definitely be regarded as the proverbial lesser evil. Though the animals are treated well, the small enclosures aren't ideal for the big cats.

This sanctuary is unique in Germany simply by virtue of its private financing. Neuendorf would like to modernize the complex but doesn't have the funding. The running costs for a single month alone are 8,000 euros, which isn't surprising after viewing the contents of the refrigerated storage building, where a ton of raw meat can be found at any given time to feed the residents.

The tigers eat about 35 kilograms of meat a day, in striking contrast to the puma, which eats only three kilograms. Many of the 800 annual visitors make donations, and Neuendorf stresses that "every euro counts."

A visit here can't be compared to an afternoon at the zoo. This isn't an event-focused park. There are no playgrounds, popcorn machines or beer gardens. The only highlight is the animals, to whom visitors can get closer than anywhere else.

For more information and to find dates for guided tours, visit

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.



• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.


"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.



For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.


Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

➡️


We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.


Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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